What stupid looks like


Dear Duncan,

If you read this someday you may find the title of this post with its accompanying photograph a tad harsh. Please remember that I am making the tired but important distinction between you and your behavior.  You are not stupid; unfortunately your behavior was.

Oh my fair one–you of the white and freckle-prone skin, you of the multiple grandparents who have battled skin cancer, you of the lifetime slathered in sunscreen, oh what were you thinking?

Your Mama didn’t tell you to wear a shirt in order to harass you; your Mama told you to wear a shirt because she loves you.  You chose the path of disobedience.  You reaped the whirlwind of scarlet skin, blisters, and the oozing, raw aftermath.  Your Mama would have undone the price of your misbehavior for you if she could–but she couldn’t. However, your suffering did give Mama hope.  Hope that you would know better in the future, not just about your skin but about the law of act and consequence.

So, today when Mama  saw you outside with your still healing blisters exposed to the sun, scrambling to re-don the shirt only when you saw her, Mama felt sad for her boy. It looks like there are blisters ahead–and not just for the skin. Not connecting the act with the consequence–that’s what stupid looks like.



It’s beginning to look a lot like Halloween

Halloween treat: Lizard FabricsIt’s that time of year when expectations (the children’s) are high and I have to keep reminding myself: I don’t sew.  Then I gravely, carefully, explain to my babies that alas, I don’t sew, and that this has important (and likely negative) implications for their costumes.  Still, fanciful notions of many-headed hydras dance in their heads.  For some reason, these sweet babies believe that if you can imagine it, you can build it.  At one point, Duncan (age 6) was going to be a bat and due to my lack of catching the vision, he was going to make the costume all by himself.  All he wanted from me was some scissors, some fabric, and a grant of complete autonomy.  

That crisis averted, I now find that Amelia is in her last year of trick or treating and hoping for a costume whose awesomeness is equal to the weighty importance of that graduation.  Even holiday scrooge Moms (that would be me) can get sucked in by things like this.  I won’t list here the various holiday things I don’t do and how my children pine for them (or miss out on them with no idea of what they’re missing, as the case may be), but trust me, costumes are the Achilles’ heel of my cold Scrooge heart.  At breakfast the other day I found myself listing the various things Amelia has been for Halloween over the years: a clown, a raccoon, a flower garden, an elephant, Cinderella, a voting booth, a cave girl, Alice in Wonderland, and now ???  They are all sweet memories–possibly with the exception of the storebought Cinderella dress.  That wasn’t special.  [This is, of course, not a judgment on the Cinderella dress you bought for your daughter--just as you don't judge me for my lack of wreaths, Santas and Easter Bunnies, right?  We all need to find special traditions for our own families but we don't all need to find the same traditions special].  

I love looking at the pictures of our past Halloweens and reflecting on why we settled on the costumes we did and how we pulled them off.  I even enjoy some knowledge gained from experience.  Namely: 1. Costumes that feature sweats (e.g., flower garden or elephant) are warm and comfy.  2. Costumes built around boxes (e.g., voting booth) are uncomfortable and difficult to trick or treat in.  Now that it is past, I consider the travail that brought each costume forth fondly.  That is why I embrace the costume challenge despite my lack of skill.  Experience suggests it might all work out in the end anyway, and if prior results are a predictor of future returns, it might even be a lot of fun. 

So: it is beginning to look a lot like Halloween at my house.  The madly optimistic purchasing of supplies is almost at an end (surely Stitch Witchery will compensate for my lack of skills, and if I buy three different types of glues one of them will surely successfully bond styrofoam cones to fabric–right?) [ Lis saves money making homemade costumes. I spend it.]  The anxious, yet thrilling!, spray painting, cutting, gluing, and assembly is just beginning.  Don’t worry.  If our ambitions fail, I have an awesome spider costume back-up plan.  A request: if you happen to see Amelia this week, could you spare a few words in praise of spiders?

Halloween sewing cheats

Balky 3 yr old advice, anyone?


Sweet Kate as Monster

How do you decide when to push your child to learn an essential life skill and when to stand back and let him find his own timing?  Although I have my generally wonderful 3 1/2 yr old in mind, this question arises for all sorts of ages and stages.  Is it appropriate to insist that a driving-phobic 16 year old practice driving?  Should a 6 yr old practice reading whether he is opposed to it or not?  Should a 5 year old be forced to wear tie shoes and practice tying them when she specifically states a preference for  velcro?  Should a 2 1/2 yr old be made to toilet train?  (Is it possible?!)  Does it vary from child to child or situation to situation?  What does it depend on?  Have you insisted that a child learn something and had it backfire on you?  What about the reverse: do you have any regrets that you weren’t the insistent parental authority your child needed? 

There are two things Kate doesn’t want to practice right now.  She won’t practice saying the “ST” sound (as in stop, stairs, star, etc) at speech and she refuses to try to write the first letter of her name at preschool.  Is it silly to worry about this?  Is it better to let it go?  What does it depend on?

What I Saw at Costco this Evening

I would desperately like to include a photograph.  However, even though I have been snap-happy recently, and even though the woman was extremely nonchalant, I thought she might not feel as nonchalant if I started strobing her with the flash. 

Background: Most would consider me a pretty hardcore breastfeeding advocate.  [Of course, it isn't my business to tell other people what to do, and I think it is best not to question why another woman chooses not to breastfeed.  Breastfeeding can be difficult and it is more difficult for some than for others.  Also, there may be factors at play that one can't know about.]  I nursed all three of my children until they were between 18 months and two years of age.  None of them ever had any formula, and none of them had any solid food before they were six months old.  Also, because I never got the knack of pumping, I was never without them for the first six months of their lives.  Does this qualify me as hardcore? 

What I saw: As I approached the checkout line at Costco, I found myself behind a woman pushing a full cart of groceries with one arm, nursing a newborn under a blanket cradled in her other arm, and with her head kinked at an angle, talking on her cellphone at the same time!  It was time for her to put her groceries on the belt, and the clerk was tentatively smiling  with perhaps a slight sense of “what should I do now?”

I deliberated for a second about whether I should start moving her groceries to the belt before getting her permission (she was not paying attention to the grocery situation enough for me to gesture).  Her purse was right there and well– I’m just wimpy–fear of people being angry with me and all.  Then she got off the phone.  So I asked if I could help, and she said yes, expressing her gratitude.  It wasn’t hard to help of course and it actually sped things up for me, since I was behind her in line.  As I left, I saw her still cradling the baby in one arm under the blanket, and with the other, pushing the heavy cart slowly out of the store.     

What is good about this: It is great that any woman in our culture could possibly be so nonchalant about this natural and important practice.  I always wanted to feel free to breastfeed anywhere, and felt I should feel free to breastfeed anywhere, but even though people were nice to me, I never made it all the way to comfort with breastfeeding whenever and wherever I went.  Although I did breastfeed in public many times, I also spent a lot of time nursing in more private spots because it was more comfortable although less convenient.  Breastfeeding is good for babies.  Anything our culture can do to help women feel more comfortable about breastfeeding, anything that makes it more convenient, is good for babies.  So yea for nonchalance! 

What is bad about this: Where was this woman’s support network?  Husband?  Friends?  Coworkers?  Religious community?  Kind neighbor?  The woman mentioned that she couldn’t leave the baby behind and therefore couldn’t get a sitter.  But could someone else not have done the shopping or gone with her?  Call me, I’ll go. 

Some unsolicited advice:

1. If you are breastfeeding as you approach the checkout, this is not a good time to make or receive telephone calls.  If the call is that important, it is not a good time to be approaching the checkout. 

2. You might find that you finish your errand more quickly if you find some place to sit down (not many at Costco I know–but how about a comfy couch or office chair, if all else fails?  It isn’t more public than the check out line) and finish nursing before resuming your shopping and/or checking out.   

3.  If it is possible for you to hire a sitter, but you can’t/won’t because you can’t/won’t leave your baby alone, consider hiring the “sitter” to be a grocery cart “pusher” instead.  An 11 year old could do that if necessary.  I have one.  I’ll rent her out cheap! 

4. Ask for help.  If you don’t have any support network to speak of, ask strangers for help.  You need it and the planet is depending on you!  In general, people are happy to be helpful to people with newborns.   

Lastly: Hugs to all the new moms who don’t have strong support networks and are going through all that new and crazy, wonderful and scary, tough stuff for the first time and don’t know what they’re doing yet.  A lot of us have been there, and we’re pulling for you.

Could I be that bad?

I am not famous for my driving prowess. I compensate by being quite cautious, knowing my limits, and sticking mainly to driving places that I have been many, many times before. It seems to have worked pretty well so far. In my ten years of driving, I have never had a traffic ticket or been in an accident where I was at fault. I do not speed. But look what my daughter is turning in for homework! She wrote this for a school assignment in which she was supposed to reflect on what it had been like to pretend to be a 1950′s child for a week (no television, no wearing of pants, yes to eating dinner with the family every night, yes to daily outdoor chores, etc.) One of the Time Swap requirements was not to drive anywhere over forty miles an hour. She reported the following:

Even though we usually go at least a little faster than forty miles per hour, I actually got places faster. When we are going faster than forty miles per hour, there is less time to think through where we are going to go, and how to get there, so it is much more probable that we will miss a turn someplace, and it will take longer to get home. When we are going fast, the driver of the car has to concentrate, and so we cannot talk as much, because if we do, than whoever is driving the car, cannot concentrate and makes a wrong turn. But because this week we had to go slower, there were less wrong turns, so we got places faster. Then, because there was much less prospect of making a wrong turn, we talked together much more in the car this week, and had fun, because we made jokes, laughed, talked, got to know each other more, and had meaningful conversations together.

Do you ever wish you could include a rebuttal with your child’s homework?

Trick or Treat

Chocolate invention

Amelia’s school assignment: “Invent” something using chocolate.
Her mother’s intervention: How about chocolate-covered brown rice balls? (What was I thinking? Umm, Nestle Crunch, but healthy?)

Amelia: Thirty minutes before school, Amelia is fighting tears. Up far past her bedtime the night before, rolling balls of sticky rice and sushi rice in chocolate [no brown sticky rice was for sale at the Asian market, rats!] she now tries one. And they are peculiar. Peculiarly awful. There is no time to concoct a new chocolate invention. If she doesn’t take the balls to school she will get a bad grade [in Amelia's mind = death]. If she does take the balls to school, she will have to “sell” them to her peers [in Amelia's mind = death by humiliation].

Mother’s intervention: “Amelia–you’re just like Thomas Edison! You don’t think the first filament he tried for his light bulb worked, do you? Invention is about trial and error. Just take the balls to school to show that you did it and tell everyone you’ve experienced the “error” part of invention.”

Amelia: Rolling of eyes, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. [I exaggerate, but you've got the idea]. Amelia prepares to toss the hated chocolate balls.

Duncan–to the rescue: Duncan breaks into tears. This is teacher appreciation week. He would like to give his wonderful teacher chocolates. Voila! There is a tray full of beautiful chocolates in the kitchen! But his sister is horrified at the thought of him giving the chocolates to his teacher. Worse, she keeps threatening to throw them away! He tries a rice ball and insists that it is delicious. If she is going to just throw them away, he wants the balls for his teacher!

Amelia: Ten minutes before school, Amelia continues to protect little bro by prohibiting him any access to the chocolate balls. She packs them for school instead–still quite upset. “What am I going to do? What if someone tries to buy one?”

Duncan: One minute before school, Duncan runs crying to the school bus, stung by life’s injustice.

Six hours later (testimony that prayer works–pray over your flocks, pray over your chicks): Amelia nonchalantly climbs into the car for the ride home. “A couple people bought them. It was no big deal. I marketed them as ‘trick chocolates.’”

Chocolate invention bagged for transport to school<

Books for Girls and their Moms

I haven’t blogged because I’ve been busy planning a mother-daughter book club.  I was hung up on the guest list–not wanting to exclude anyone who wanted to be included, but worrying that it would get too big, worrying about different girls’ different reading levels, little sisters, etc.  My new plan: I’ve simply invited every girl (and her mom) from Amelia’s fifth grade class and not any others.  This way, they are all the same age, they all read on an advanced level, and no one is included or excluded on the basis of popularity.  

I've been feeling like the library's best customer recently . . .

I've been feeling like the library's best customer recently . . .

I assume that not all 12 girls and their mothers will want to participate, but a group with 12 mother-daughter pairs would be too large anyway.  I think just 4 mother daughter pairs would be enough to make it a success, so I hope we will get that many. 

If we were a well-established book group, I think it would be best to have the girls help choose the books.  But since this group is just meeting for the summer at this point, and we need a jumpstart, I decided to just pick the six books (we will meet twice a month this summer) and let the girls and moms sign up if they were interested in reading those books.   

I was surprised how difficult it was to pick the books! Each book needed:

1) to be relatively short, because we are meeting every two weeks

2) to provide good material for discussion

3) to be interesting and well-written

4) to be in print and available at both our local library and as a cheap paperback at Amazon

5) to include only material that was appropriate for 11 year olds to read and discuss. 

(A further stumbling block was that my 11 yr old didn’t want me to plan any books she had already read–and she has read a lot.  I ended up planning to read The Giver despite her wishes for new material).

The mix of books I came up with is heavily weighted toward realistic fiction; I struggled to find fantasy and science fiction books that met all of my criteria.  These books have some challenging (yet appropriate) topics, but they won’t be a challenge in terms of reading skill.  I figure it is better to err on the side of too easy rather than too difficult.  These books are also a little on the heavy side–you can’t escape the “life is full of adversity” message in these books–I’m not sure if that comes along with the “good material for discussion” criterion or if the list turned out that way by chance.  

Anyway, drumroll please!  Here are the books I selected:

Listening for Lions                    Gloria Whelan (National Book Award winner), 2005

Rachel has lived in British East Africa her entire life, but when the flu epidemic of 1919 leaves her an orphan, she is forced to leave the only home she knows.  Scheming neighbors coerce her into  pretending to be their deceased daughter and send her to England.  Can she undo their web of lies without hurting others?  Will she ever be able to return to Africa?  Will the mission hospital her parents worked so hard to build ever reopen?


Cousins                                              Virginia Hamilton (Newbery Medal winner), 1990

Cammy loves her  brother,  mom and  grandma—but has a father she doesn’t know and a cousin who is an enemy rather than a friend.  She makes a terrible wish that she doesn’t intend to come true, but when it does, her family must help her learn how to heal. 


The Breadwinner                            Deborah Ellis, 2000

Parvana lives under the harsh restrictions of Taliban rule with her family in AfghanistanWhen her father disappears, Parvana is the only one able to get food for the family, but she must transform herself into a boy and risk her own safety to do it.     


The Bomb                                          Theodore Taylor (author of The Cay) , 1995

Sorry Rinamu lives on Bikini Atoll at the end of World War II.  The Americans liberate Bikini from the Japanese, and life is good until the Americans select Bikini as the best place to conduct atomic tests.  Sorry and his fellow Islanders are asked to relocate.  Will they? Can the tests be stopped?


Out of the Dust                                  (1998 Newbery Medal                       Karen Hesse, 1997

This novel is written in free verse.  Billie Jo lives in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great DepressionHer father’s crops fail again and again, dust seeps into their food, their truck, and their piano, and it seems like things can’t get any worse.  But then an accident takes her mother and baby brother and Billie Jo’s hands are left burnt and useless.  How will she and her father find hope when life seems hopeless?


The Giver                                           (1994 Newbery Medal)                            Lois Lowry, 1993

In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world. (Summary from Amazon.com)

Duncan and the Ants!

Duncan discovered the crevice from which the ants emerge. 

What do you do with a 6 year old who believes ants are worthy of encouragement? 


Ants on Corn Chips

This is not a spill.  It is a pile of chip fragments strategically positioned next to the crevice.  A carefully arranged path of chips led from this crevice to under the dining room table.   

Duncan has lost his chip eating privileges.  Any other suggestions?


It’s been a good, tough week here at Pfamily Headquarters.  Very tough, very good.  The  good news is that Kate’s spinal tap results came back and everything was normal as was her bloodwork.  So, after more than $10,000 in medical tests–not hyperbole–we know that 1) She hasn’t had a stroke, 2) she doesn’t have a brain tumor, 3) there isn’t a hole in her heart, 4) she doesn’t have multiple sclerosis, and 4) she probably doesn’t have a neurotransmitter deficiency.  This is very, very, very good news because I didn’t want Kate to have any of those things.  The only problem is that she still has the tremor and we still don’t know why.  This may be no big deal– an “idiopathic” or unexplained tremor may simply continue–odd, worrisome even, but no ultimate harm done.  However, it is too early to tell if/how the tremor will affect her handwriting and other fine motor abilities.   

Since November I’ve been intellectually and emotionally consumed with worrying about Kate and the upcoming test or appointment or whatever.  Now the tests and appointments are at an end.  My anxiety has not yet met it’s end, but I hope it soon will.  It would help if Kate’s tremor would lessen or disappear the way a person’s sore throat pain starts to ease as soon as they hear that it’s not strep.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen–I guess Kate didn’t get the memo. 

Aside from my continuing anxiety about Kate, another tough thing about this week was  the consecutive  504 appointments I attended at Duncan and Amelia’s schools.  (A 504 appointment is a meeting with your child’s school in which you make a plan for dealing with the child’s disability).  Duncan’s appointment was for speech therapy.  Although I’ve been through the 504 process before, I was disturbed anew when I received the letter to schedule the meeting.  I don’t feel like a parent who needs to meet with a special education liaison!  I don’t recognize my child as being in the disabled category: someone who “has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”  Nonetheless,  Duncan can’t make a few of the sounds six year olds should be able to make.  More significantly, he has a whole word stutter.  (Have you ever heard of a whole word stutter?  Rather than repeating the initial sound, a child with this type of stutter repeats an entire word over and over.   Before Duncan, I had never heard of it).   

Of course, lots of kids are sent to speech therapy.  It’s no big deal.  I went to speech therapy as a child, and I say “lllll” very well now, thank you very much.  I guess it’s just a little tricky in that I am used to academic tests in which one hopes to be in the 90th or 95th or even 99th percentile, so to hear that Duncan tests at the 12th percentile–it seems so  low!  But then I remember that this is just his ability to make the “k” sound–not a measure of  his abilities as a whole.  However,  then I remember the stutter and that seems like it might be a bit bigger of a deal.  Will he ever be easy to listen to?  The speech therapist says that they will teach him to take a breath and slow down before he speaks.  Could that solve it?  Waves of worry wash over me and then recede.  The tide comes in, it goes out, it comes in again.   

The fact that I find receiving these 504 letters, with their mentions of “special education,” disturbing doubtless suggests that I need to adjust my thinking regarding special education.  However, recognizing this doesn’t make it so.   

Amelia has had a 504 plan for years.  Her 504 specifies that she be “accommodated” by being allowed to use a keyboard in class.  She types everything because fine motor tasks are a challenge.  Her  504 meeting this morning was a bucket of fun.  Her good teacher was pressing the district to offer Amelia more “services” because although typing resolves many of her academic-related fine motor issues, the teacher worries that Amelia will have trouble accomplishing  important basic life tasks (cutting meat, tieing a shoe, cutting her own fingernails).  I understand this concern well, as it mirrors my own,  but the notion that playing with putty (my cynical description of occupational therapy) twice a week for twenty minutes will help—-I’m painfully skeptical. 

The whole meeting felt like a wound being reopened, poked at, examined.  It reminded me that Amelia has real problems that do and will affect her life.  They aren’t going to go away.  I had wanted to forget that.  Just as I’d like for Kate to wake up tomorrow without the tremor and for Duncan to be able to spit out his story on the first telling, I would like to see Amelia’s fine motor problems vanish.  I know, I know, if wishes were horses . . . , but couldn’t my kids just be “normal” kids without the issues?  Sometimes the unusualness of their respective problems bothers me– as though, if I could somehow meet another three year old with a tremor, or 6 year old with a whole word stutter, or 10 year old who struggled to tie her shoes, everything would be  so much better.     

What is normality and when does the moniker apply?  Are most of us disabled?  Do almost all of us face some sort of deficit that leaves us at a level less than the norm?  Some issues are bigger than others.  I recognize that parents whose children have cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, for example, face difficulties far more daunting than the minor frustrations and disappointments I  have faced with my children thus far.  Also, from the outside looking in, it appears that some families have it all: they appear smart, athletic, healthy, etc.  But I know that none of us will truly escape challenges in this life.  And although there are many other sorts of challenges, the challenges we face often arise internally:  social deficits, medical problems, mental problems, learning disabilities, etc. 

It is likely that to be normal, one must be abnormal in some way.   Can we take comfort in the normality of our abnormalities?